Monday, March 22, 2010

District Backs Off PTSA Fee

(Update: The Times weighed in and with a lot of skepticism over this idea. To whit:

District leaders must develop a better ear for what works and is acceptable to city families. Floating a ridiculous idea only to pull it back amid an uproar weakens the district's already fragile bond with families. Parents cannot help but wonder what other ideas at central administration are awaiting their ride up the flagpole.

Yes indeed, what next?)

Thanks to a parent and activist, Kellie LaRue, for this update: the district is not going to charge a fee to cover administrative costs to PTSAs for funds raised for school budgets. (I will name this person after I find out if it is okay. Thanks to all of you who contacted the Superintendent, the Board and for offering to take public action on this issue.

Here is what they had to say via Bridgett Chandler, Executive Director of SPS Communications:

We want to express our sincere appreciation for the hard work and dedication of our PTSAs. Their support is absolutely vital in our efforts to make every school an excellent school. We regret that our PTSAs were caught by surprise by one of the proposed strategies to balance the budget. We are evaluating many potential ways to address the budget shortfall, and it is clear that the idea of extending the policy of charging an indirect grant fee to include PTSA grants is not a productive suggestion. We acknowledge that we should have reached out directly to discuss a prospect like this with our PTSAs. Improving our communication to families in general and PTSAs in particular is a high priority during our ongoing budget development process.
SPS staff recommended this fee recently as part of an overall effort to both improve district-wide financial management and to address the impacts of a $3 billion state budget shortfall. The district proposed extending the practice of charging a grant administration fee for ALL of the grants it receives, including PTSAs. It is typical for organizations to charge some level of fee – known as an indirect fee –to cover the actual costs associated with receiving grants and paying for the services the grant supports. For instance, if a grant covers a part time music teacher, that person needs to be hired, added to payroll, granted an email account, etc. Indirect fees on grants pay part of the costs of these payroll, hiring, finance, and information technology services. This type of indirect rate charged by local government and educational organizations varies widely; some entities charge up to a third or even half of the grant amount to cover administration and other costs associated with a grant.
It is the district’s current policy to charge an indirect fee on grants, but it currently exempts PTSA grants from this fee. We proposed covering part of the costs of administering these grants through a 3.3 percent rate, which is the rate we currently charge for federal grants we receive. Staff briefed the School Board’s finance and audit committee recently about an array of potential budget cuts and strategies to reach a balanced budget. This proposal was also included in the budget information that we share with principals and other district leaders. In hindsight, we should have highlighted this particular recommendation for broader discussion.
The reality is that the work of administering these grants needs to be done, and we will look elsewhere for cuts to offset the amount that an indirect fee would have produced. On top of cuts made last year, we’ve just eliminated nearly 90 more central office positions. This represents over $6.2 million of the needed $24 million in cuts required to address this year’s budget shortfall. The process of informing our many dedicated staff about central office reductions of this severity demanded careful attention. We are now turning our attention to completing the budget. We are committed to improving our budget development process, especially in supporting our school leaders as they work with staff, families, and valuable partners like our PTSAs as they prepare their school budgets.
We are offering engagement opportunities for our community after spring break so that we can share updated information once a final state budget is released. This will also be an opportunity for us to hear from families about improving the budget development process and learning what their top priorities are as we prepare to address yet another anticipated state budget short fall next year of approximately $26 million. Our commitment is continue to protect the instructional core to the greatest extent possible.

28 comments:

StepJ said...

AbFab.

Thank you undisclosed parent activist!

Charlie Mas said...

"Improving our communication to families in general and PTSAs in particular is a high priority during our ongoing budget development process."
Obviously not.

"SPS staff recommended this fee recently as part of an overall effort to both improve district-wide financial management and to address the impacts of a $3 billion state budget shortfall."
What SPS staff? Who recommended it?

"In hindsight, we should have highlighted this particular recommendation for broader discussion."
Ya think?

"We are now turning our attention to completing the budget.... We are offering engagement opportunities for our community after spring break so that we can share updated information once a final state budget is released."
So the plan is to engage the community AFTER the decisions are made. What sort of engagement is that?

reuvencarlyle36 said...

Team,

I want to thank all of the parents who stepped up, spoke up and joined in communicating about the need to engage parents in a more constructive way that this silly idea.

Thank you for all you do to build community in our schools and our city.

Congratulations on showing once again the value of community organizing!

Your partner in service,

Reuven Carlyle
State Representative & SPS Parent
36th District
www.reuvencarlyle36.com

ParentofThree said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ParentofThree said...

"We are offering engagement opportunities for our community after spring break so that we can share updated information once a final state budget is released."

I really hope this is authentic because right now community engagement is taking place in the media and in the courts.

Central Mom said...

I like to think it was the threat of pennies. I guess we can save that one for another occasion.

Actually, it is pretty darn rare for Staff to back down and dare I say apologize for an errant idea. Thank you District for seeing the light and fellow parents for bringing the light to them and shining it right in their eyes. A lesson all around in the Power of Parents as Partners.

sixwrens said...

Great that they backed off... yet the response seems to suggest that this would be reasonable.

Yes, institutions charge indirect fees, and yes, they can be more than half of the cost of the grant. The mere mention of this suggest that 3% is a deal. The reality is that the high indirects reflect employee-earned grants with institutions provide real material support including things like: office space, phones, administrative (secretarial) support, payroll, etc, etc.

The PTSA grants are run through the PTA and have little to do with the district.

I'll keep my eye on this issue.

Working Together said...

The parent and activist I would like to thank is SCPTSA chair Ramona Hattendorf, who underwent extensive communications with district leaders on this in the last few days. THANK YOU RAMONA!!!

Keepin'On said...

I would like to thank Rep. Reuven Carlyle as well - he had a bully pulpit and used it wisely.

Thank you everyone!

gavroche said...

This would have been a major black eye for the District if it had pursued it. It would not have played well in the media.

The penny protest idea would have been particularly effective. I think congrats should go to all who voiced their dissent here and elsewhere.

But I'm afraid that the main reason the District backed down is because it knew what a public relations disaster this would have been.

I'm not convinced the District sees how wrongheaded this (and many other) ideas and actions it unilaterally imposes are.

I think this is just another indication that this District cares more about its public image than about what is fair and just.

We need to keep paying attention and letting them know we will act loudly if they try to pull such stunts.

To follow up on Charlie's question, does anyone know who in the District came up with this idea in the first place? Did the Board know of or approve it? Does anyone know what exactly goes on at the JSCEE?

It'll be interesting to read the state's upcoming audit of SPS HQ.

gavroche said...

Here's that negative publicity:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2011413993_ptafee23m.html


Seattle schools won't charge PTAs a fee on donations

A few days after Seattle Public Schools told parent groups they would be charged for giving money to schools, district officials said Monday that won't happen after all.

By Linda Shaw

Seattle Times education reporter

Related

* Seattle Council PTSA press release (PDF)
* Seattle Public Schools email (PDF)

A few days after Seattle Public Schools told parent groups they would be charged for giving money to schools, district officials said that won't happen after all.

In an e-mail sent Monday to PTA leaders, district officials said they have tabled a proposal to impose a 3.3 percent processing fee on some donations because it was "not a productive suggestion."

That decision came after PTA leaders at a number of schools reacted with anger and distress when they heard that an administrative charge would be assessed on many donations.

At Salmon Bay School, for example, the parent group is planning to give about $86,000 in the fall to help keep a school librarian for four days a week and to cover part of the costs of its middle-school music teacher, its physical-education teacher and two part-time volunteer coordinators.

The proposed fee would have added $2,800 to the total.

The fees would not have applied to all parent donations. PTAs still could have made donations without a charge but wouldn't have any guarantee in how those dollars were spent.

If the district had imposed the fees, it might have been the first in the state to do so.

Bill Williams, executive director of the Washington State PTA, said he didn't know of any other school district in the state that applied any fees to PTA donations. He called the idea "unfortunate."

"Here you have parent volunteers trying to improve the school," he said. The fees, he said, would "just make their job that much harder."

Seattle PTA leaders say they are happy the district has tabled the idea for now, but they are still upset the district didn't seek their input at the outset.

The fee idea came to light as Seattle school principals, preparing budgets for the 2010-11 school year, turned to their PTAs for help.


(continued)

gavroche said...

(cont from previous post):

The district is looking at cutting about $24 million in expenses to deal with state budget cuts and also to pay for some new efforts. The district already has eliminated about 85 positions in its central office, and it looks as if schools may face cuts as well.

advertising

Several PTA presidents said Monday that the fees sounded like a done deal, not a proposal.

They were told the district could no longer afford to exempt parent groups from the administrative fees it charges for many other grants.

Barbara Hazzard, PTA president at Whittier Elementary, said the grant form she was asked to sign had the fees highlighted in yellow.

Hazzard was one of the parents who objected to the fees on principle.

So was Jane Davies, co-president of the parent group at Salmon Bay.

"It doesn't make sense to ask parents to raise money to support their schools, and then charge them a fee to do so," said Davies, stressing she was speaking for herself.

But even those who could accept the concept of an administration fee were upset the district hadn't consulted parents about it.

In its Monday e-mail, the district apologized for not informing parents sooner.

"We acknowledge that we should have reached out directly to discuss a prospect like this with our PTSAs," the e-mail said.

School Board members also didn't feel fully informed.

Sherry Carr, chair of the board's Audit and Finance Committee, said that district staff had talked about charging 3.3 percent administrative fees for grants, but that she and other board members didn't realize that included PTA grants. If she'd known, she said, she would have asked a lot more questions.

"We have made a lot of changes that have impacted families over the past six to 12 months. ... We don't need this, too," she said.

Carr also noted that although schools are working on their budgets, nothing will be final for months. The district still doesn't even know how much it will receive from the state, because legislators have yet to adopt a budget.

Board President Michael DeBell said he also hadn't realized the staff was looking at charging PTAs for their contributions.

His initial reaction, he said, was that PTAs "are not necessarily the right place to look for revenue."

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com


This kind of makes you wonder if SPS was trying to slip this past the Board. Or was the Board not paying close enough attention?

dan dempsey said...

gavroche ended with:
"This kind of makes you wonder if SPS was trying to slip this past the Board. Or was the Board not paying close enough attention?"

Likely both as usual ... NTN contract is next. Feb 3 slipped one by an inattentive Sundquiat, Maier, Carr, & Martin-Morris
==================
New Tech Claims 41 schools with 19 demonstration schools.....
These six in Indiana are all classified as demonstration schools... find them at this location at the bottom of the page they are so new there is no state test data available but Columbus Signature academy is a k-12 Corporation school I believe. High School section to new for scores.

Check out Zebra New Tech High School Rochester, Indiana. Claims thirty years of research support Project Based Learning ..... really ??? SHOW ME THE DATA

The more you look the worse this gets....

Try the 19 demonstration schools here.

See bottom of page .. I am tired but think there are only 18 ( can't be I am just tired).

It would be interesting to set Mr. Eric Anderson back to work on these two demonstration schools:
Welby New Tech .. Denver
LA school of global studies .. L.A.

This is an incredibly naive approach called praying this works ... me I'd do what the research shows ... This will be a giant waste.

dan dempsey said...

" Our commitment is continue to protect the instructional core to the greatest extent possible."

By hording money that should be going to the Low Income schools it was headed for .... so now it can be dumped into a proven failure NTN.....

How about we stop protecting the instructional core? The core will likely do a lot better without Staff protection.

This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "protection racket".

dan dempsey said...

Latest from NTN News Who is being protected?

Charlie Mas said...

The Board was informed, but in an intentionally obscure way to evade their detection - and it worked. They didn't detect it.

This speaks to both the staff's deceptive practices and the Board's incompetence.

You'll notice that the idea was deferred, not deleted.

seattle citizen said...

"The reality is that the work of administering these grants needs to be done, and we will look elsewhere for cuts to offset the amount that an indirect fee would have produced. "

Uh, maybe start with the new contracts, worth millions of dollars? Or maybe it's more important to give taxpayer money to outside entities rather than take care of business in-house?

The second part of this district communication basically says, you asked for it - we won't charge but there go another three or four staff members...

HOw much money is currently being spent on outside contractors? Enough for 30 teachers? 40?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Gavroche, I put in a public disclosure request for the questions you asked before they canceled the fee. Let's see if I get the answers. I agree with your assessment that they withdrew because of public relations issues, not because it was a bad idea.

I also agree with Charlie that the staff tried to slip it by and the Board didn't notice. I think I felt confused because I didn't know the PTSA money that goes into budgets is considered a grant. However, the Board either gets too much paper shoved in front of them while they are listening to a presentation and/or they don't fully get some of the nuances. I think it can be easy to miss but I also find that the Board doesn't follow-thru with extra questions if staff doesn't answer their original question.

The weird thing is that the Alliance doesn't charge fees and, for example, the money Roosevelt raised for the RHS budget goes through the Alliance and wouldn't have been charged the fee. I suspect that more PTAs would have simply funneled the dollars through the Alliance to avoid the fee. (I think Dorothy mentioned this elsewhere.)

Again, it is the tone-deaf attitude of the district. ZB had said that the district was within their rights to try to find money anywhere and had a policy of charging fees on grants. I'm good with that but the fact that they didn't not clearly explain this to the Board nor notify PTSAs in a timely manner makes it look very suspicious.

Yes, I believe they were trying to slip something through and were hoping that PTAs would shrug and say oh well. Didn't happen. Good for everyone who spoke up.

Maureen said...

Let's not forget about Pay for K. The fee for next year is set at $207 per month. When I first heard about this 3.3% fee it became clear to me where that odd number came from. It was apparently set at $200 per month plus the handling fee. Shouldn't the price go down to $200 per month now that the fee has been rescinded?

Keepin'On said...

Which makes me wonder - how can the people at district be so consistently tone deaf? How can they NOT have a clue about how parents will react to things? It is not like they shouldn't be used to this by now - and I am sure there must be some folks there with brains. Is it Stockholm syndrome or something? What gives>

Central Mom said...

Keepin On, I would assert that this attitude and way of doing business flows down from the top. That means the superindent and the COO and secondarily the Director of Community Relations. Nothing will change unless they want it to change. Or unless we change the people in those jobs.

I have heard a lot of lip service about increasing community engagement since MGJ started, but aside from the early stages of NSAP planning, I have seen no action on the subject. None at all. That goes for triple in the area of finances. Unless you count after-the-fact community "notification." And I certainly don't.

Powerpoints and pages of achievement matrices don't cut it. An honest willingness to MEET with the community, EXPLAIN matters to concerned people who may not understand educational jargon and financial intricacies, and truly CONSIDER the feedback given, is community engagement.

This administration really does not get it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

The fact that they can straight-face keeping saying things about engagement and communication just AS they are showing they don't do it is incredible.

gavroche said...

Central Mom said...

Keepin On, I would assert that this attitude and way of doing business flows down from the top. That means the superindent and the COO and secondarily the Director of Community Relations. Nothing will change unless they want it to change. Or unless we change the people in those jobs.


Oh but what about all those Superintendent robocalls and the Supt's e-newsletter that gets delivered to our 46,000 SPS parent in-boxes? Isn't that the Supt "engaging" with us?

Of course, that's one-way communication (if you can call it 'communication').

And we don't get a chance to talk back to her.

And even if we did, she wouldn't listen.

So I agree with you, Central Mom. This does not constitute true community engagement, and it is coming from the top down -- from our aloof $264,000 Broad Foundation Superintendent (http://www.broadcenter.org/about/board.html), and staff.

StepJ said...

Maureen - I had the same thought.

Local schools were administering Pay for K.

The District forcibly took it away and is now going to charge a fee to parents while also denying autonomy (and possibly the Pay for K funds) to their school?

Central Mom said...

To Maureen's point, I completely agree. This was another sneaky fee pushed onto schools with no notice.

Why can the District not take one or two checks from any school's PTA who chooses to "front" the parents' fees, and in return let the schools keep the $7 per month fee. Why should we be funding someone to push paper around?

In a school with 50 K kids, that is $63 per family, or ***$3,150*** in fees that families could contribute directly to schools rather than Central Administration.

$3000 makes a HUGE difference to individual schools. Why should that money go to Central Administration administrative costs when it does not need to.

ttln said...

Why would pay for K apply to the grant processing fee? These are not "grants." I don't consider the $225 I pay right now for K at Greenwood Elem. a "grant." The district did not apply for funding from me, I applied to be enrolled in a school. This is tuition. Non-tax deductable, tuition. I write the check directly to the school. It does not go through the PTSA.

Having said that, it most likely means that the price will not drop $7 next year. It is a handling fee for tuition and therefore not part of the PTSA handling fee fiasco.

ttln said...

Sorry that sounded so cranky. It wasn't meant to.

Charlie Mas said...

Funny. When the Broad Foundation wants the District to hire an intern the District not only pays for the administrative support for the intern but half of the $90,000 annual salary. When a PTA wants to hire a part-time math teacher the District not only won't pay half the salary, but they want to charge the PTA for the cost of the administrative support.

I guess it's pretty clear who's money is greener.